Writing groups can be the arena for blood sports: as correspondent Dave notes, the critique-carnage can be horrific...
DAVE Writes: "Question: should a proper character act like “normal” people, or may a character act like the one the author has in mind?
I often find that in our groups’ reviews, a character's actions are measured against a ubiquitous Everyman. For example, a innocent soccer mom reluctantly conscripted into committing a robbery would never walk away from the scene of the crime with the booty stashed in a Target bag she carried in open sight. Why? Because "anyone" could figure that was a bad idea. Maybe, but would a law-abiding, never-thought-of-doing-crime-before character think of such details? Maybe not, but Everyman would. (The comments center on) “no one would do this” and “no one would do that.” Etc., etc.
I’m finding that reviewers may not be formulating their observations within the context the author has provided. One may argue that the author has done a poor job of providing context; it would be fair to say that the author has not prepared the reader to accept (the character's action). But to say 'no. Everyman wouldn’t do that. Because I wouldn’t!' seems to miss the point.
Some critiquers seem to hold the character up against a standard of “normal” behavior (whatever the hell that really is). I think this take on characterization could be confusing to aspiring writers. Story-telling is supposed to take us beyond the realm of strictly normal, because normal is boring. I wonder what others have to say about this."
(grin) Well, if it's an opinion you seek, my opinion is that any critique'r who criticizes the actions of a character by using (or even implying) the term "Everyman" in his/her statement is pole-waxing a literary/philosophical conceit that is as equally useless today as when it was first foisted on the writin' world back in, as I vaguely recall, the Dark Ages. (Or it might have been the Middle Ages; I can't be certain which, 'cause I was drinking a lot of mead and/or wine in those days.)
Simply stated, there ain't no such creature as "Everyman."
Then as now, the concept is merely a pretentious attempt at making uninformed opinion sound insightful-- to induce other equally uninformed folk to nod judiciously when, say, they hear it in a critique, so as not to appear too pedestrian to the crowd-- and you're wise to employ the term in your posting as what I perceive as a pejorative, Dave.
It's pretty simple to predict the actions of a group of people -- for one example, back in the days before one could efficiently target minor demographics, large-group dynamics was the core principle behind mass-market advertising; for another, it remains the basis for just about any totalitarian movement -- but it is exceedingly difficult to predict what any individual will do in any given instance...
... that is, unless one has a pretty specific insight to two elements: the complexities of that individual's mind, motivations and (momentary?) madness; AND the situation/circumstances that exist at the instant the character "takes action."
At that nexis of all these factors, if only he did exist, "Everyman" could become a saint or a sinner. Just like any one of us.
(chuckle) You've pushed a personal button when you mentioned "context," sir; constructing context expertly is what determines if any character (and, of course, the story which must flow therefrom) is a masterpiece or a mess. It's the job of the writer to create that contextual environment --in a manner both subtle and yet obvious enough so that the reader will have an "ah-ha!" moment at the revealed logic of what might be the character's otherwise-illogical actions.
So my (admittedly unsolicited) advice would be for any writer not to concern him/herself over-much at the critique-statements Dave mentions ("nobody would do etc."); instead, ponder if the writing was somehow lacking in the requisite ground-laying that led the character to do the act.
IMHO (accent on the "o") critique'rs would be well-advised to point out that flaw (and leave "Everyman" discussions to insomniacs in college dorm lounges); writers of the pieces in question would be well-advised to seriously ponder the former comments, but respond to the latter only with that most polite (and meaningless) response: "Thank you for your input."
--Earl "Everyman Is Workin' For The Weekend" Merkel